It’s an honor and a great pleasure to announce the recent description of two new BHS endemic damselfishes, named after diving divas Maurine Shimlock and Dr. Ellen Gritz. The two beautiful new fish species were previously considered geographic color variants of the damselfish Chrysiptera oxycephala, but genetic analysis by our colleague Dita Cahyani from the Indonesian Biodiversity Research Centre has shown conclusively that the Cendrawasih Bay and Raja Ampat populations actually represent separate species.
With this genetic evidence in hand, my colleague Gerry Allen and I were delighted to describe the gorgeous lemon-yellow damsel from Cendrawasih Bay after our dear friend Maurine Shimlock. Given Maurine’s tireless efforts to explore and promote the Bird’s Head, and especially Cendrawasih Bay, naming a Cendrawasih endemic after her seemed a most fitting tribute! As an added bonus, this fish is common on the shallow reefs of Cendrawasih – which means Maurine won’t need to dive to 70m (where many of our new species finds come from nowadays!) to see her piscine namesake.
Similarly, we were also very pleased to be able to name the new Raja Ampat damsel Chrysiptera ellenae in honor of Dr. Ellen Gritz – a world-renowned cancer researcher who also happens to be a good friend and a generous supporter of the Bird’s Head Seascape. This seemed a particularly appropriate fish to name after Ellen, given its beautiful blue coloration (Ellen’s favorite!) and the fact that it is a sibling species to C. maurinae (Maurine and Ellen have been diving buddies for years!).
Both of these new species are found in close association with branching coral colonies on shallow sheltered reefs. This includes the majority of Cendrawasih’s mainland reefs for C. maurinae, and mostly lagoonal areas (such as the lagoons of Wayag, Ayau, Kri and SE Misool’s Mesempta karst channels) for C. ellenae in Raja Ampat. Both species also show significant colour changes over the course of their lifetime; C. maurinae has a neon blue upper body and bright yellow lower half as a juvenile, but over time the blue gradually disappears and the adults are bright yellow. By comparison, C. ellenae exhibits a striking neon blue juvenile phase, gradually changing to a more greenish-blue as it matures.
With the addition of these two new species, the total count for the Bird’s Head rises to 1759 reef fish species recorded, including 1563 species from Raja Ampat, 1044 from Cendrawasih, and 1053 from the FakFak-Kaimana coastline. Perhaps 2016 will be the year we break the 1800 species mark for the Bird’s Head! In the meantime, if you’re fortunate enough to be diving in Raja Ampat or Cendrawasih this year, keep a lookout for the latest two endemic fishes from the Bird’s Head!
For more information about Bird’s Head Seascape visit www.birdsheadseascape.com.
British freediver sets new national record with 112m dive
British freediver Gary McGrath has set a new national record at the prestigious Vertical Blue freediving competition in the Bahamas.
Using only a monofin for propulsion, Gary swam down a measured rope to a depth of 112m (367ft), returning to the surface to receive a white card from the AIDA International judges to validate his dive.
Gary, 41, held his breath for three minutes and 13 seconds to complete the dive.
Freedivers descend underwater on a single breath of air and the atmospheric pressure on their bodies increases as they go deeper.
At 112m deep the pressure is 12 times greater than the surface, meaning the air in Gary’s lungs would have shrunk to less than a twelfth of its original volume – around the size of a golf ball.
Freedivers train to cope with the physiological strains placed on their bodies by their sport, and Gary uses his background of yoga and meditation to help his physical and mental preparation for deep dives.
He has also had to overcome physical challenges after contracting Covid last year during preparations for a previous national record attempt.
Gary said: ‘Diving below 100m is a totally unique environment, it’s my therapy.
‘This year has been extremely challenging for my mental health and freediving has helped me overcome that for sure.
‘At depth I have complete isolation from the everyday world we live in. Down there it’s just me and nature. It’s that escape that all freedivers crave.
‘There are moments of extreme mental clarity and purity that I can only achieve when underwater. The flow state that a deep dive allows me to experience is unique and addictive.’
Gary, originally from Twickenham, began freediving in 2006 and has been competing since 2008.
A former tree surgeon, he became a professional freedive instructor in 2014, and he and his partner Lynne Paddon run Yoga and Freedive Retreats in Ibiza.
Remarkably, he completed his 112m national record dive on Tuesday (August 9) despite being forced to compete wearing a borrowed monofin which was a size too small for his feet.
His entire kit bag containing his monofin, bifins and two wetsuits was lost by an airline as he travelled to the competition.
Despite his careful preparation, Gary said he suffered nerves on the morning of his national record dive, and relied on a phone call to his partner Lynne, who helped him focus on breathing techniques and visualisation to calm his nerves.
Speaking immediately after his dive, he said: ‘That was all for Lynne – this whole week has been about her. I could not do it without her. I hope that everyone finds someone they can click with, it’s the most magical thing in the world.’
Gary also thanked supporters who helped him to crowdfund to raise the money needed for him to travel to the Bahamas and compete.
Vertical Blue is considered one of the most elite events on the freediving calendar and has been dubbed the ‘Wimbledon of Freediving’.
Owned and run by world record freediver William Trubridge, the event takes place in a 202m (663ft) deep sinkhole known as Dean’s Blue Hole, off the coast of Long Island.
The previous British national record of 111m was set by Michael Board in 2018, also at a Vertical Blue competition.
All Photographs courtesy of Daan Verhoeven (www.daanverhoeven.com)
Film Review: Thirteen Lives
Ron Howard’s recreation of the 2018 rescue of a Thai junior football team is impressive. Even though we know what happens in the end the tension and drama played out is palpable.
On 23 June 2018, 12 members of a Thai junior football team, the Wild Boars, and their coach became trapped deep in the Tham Luang cave system by rising flood water. The film details the incredible international rescue efforts that ensue. And Ron Howard has judged the tone perfectly. There is no Hollywood glitz and glamour and the two leading actors: Colin Farrell and Viggo Mortensen, who play John Volanthen and Rick Stanton respectively, capture the intensity of the situation perfectly.
The diving scenes are claustrophobic in the extreme. Although I suspect that the visibility was even worse than the film depicts as you have to be able to see something in the dramatization! All the way through the film I found myself shaking my head in disbelief at the extraordinary feat these divers pulled off. The skill and bravery required still impresses after watching films, hearing them speak in public and reading about the rescue.
I loved that, whilst the divers took centre stage in the film, the heroic rescue efforts of the water engineer and his team was also given the attention they deserve, as well as the incredible Thai Navy Seals and the thousands of people that flocked to the region to help.
Thirteen Lives is a must watch movie about an incredible cave rescue. It’s sober tone hits the mark. The cinematography is skilled and creates an impressively tense experience. It is available on Amazon Prime right now.
WIN a c-monsta Wetsuit Hanger!!!
For this week’s competition, we’ve teamed up with c-monsta to give away one of their wetsuit hangers as a prize!...
WIN a Sharkskin Performance 40L Duffle Bag!!!
For this week’s competition, we’ve teamed up with our good friends at Liquid Sports to give away a Sharkskin Performance 40L Duffle Bag as...
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For this week’s competition, we’ve teamed up with Vasili Lights to give away one of their beautiful Fish Lanterns! Inspired...
WIN a Beuchat Maxlux S Mask and Spy Snorkel!!!
For this week’s competition, we’ve teamed up with our good friends at Beuchat to give away Maxlux S Mask and Spy Snorkel!...
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